Donald Trump claims progress in opioid fight, says prescriptions down by 34%

April 24, 2019 GMT

The U.S. opioid crisis won’t be solved overnight but progress is being made, President Trump said Wednesday, claiming credit for slashing opioid prescriptions by a third and getting more people into addiction treatment.

Mr. Trump said he convinced China to reel in fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s killing tens of thousands of Americans, and that his criminal-justice reform bill placed 16,000 inmates into drug-abuse treatment.

More broadly, the number of people receiving medication-assisted treatment is up more than 60% under his administration, he said.

“We will never stop, until our job is done, and then maybe we’ll have to find something new,” Mr. Trump told the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. “We will succeed.”

The White House said its efforts are paying off.

Nationwide drug-overdose death rate flattened as of September the most recent reporting month and states like New Hampshire, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have seen major decreases in overdose deaths over the latest 12-month reporting period, compared to the prior year, according to the administration.

And it said the number of opioids prescribed decreased by 34 percent over the first two years of Mr. Trump’s tenure.

“We’re making tremendous progress,” Mr. Trump said.

The Georgia event had the feel of a stump speech at times, with Mr. Trump decrying “weak, pathetic” immigration laws, extolling his economic record and offering support for faith-based initiatives, before pivoting back to addiction.

More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017, including nearly 48,000 from opioids alone.

Soaring death rates prompted Mr. Trump to label drug addiction to be a public health emergency during his first year in office.

Since then, Mr. Trump has urged Chinese officials to crack down on fentanyl as part of trade talks and says his emerging border wall will thwart drug traffickers from Mexico.

Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, tied the drug problem to U.S. borders, saying Customs and Border Protection so much fentanyl last year, it was equivalent to a lethal dose for every American.

Mr. Trump signed a mammoth, bipartisan bill in October to stop the flow of synthetic drugs from abroad, expand treatment options and fund non-addictive painkillers.

Keith Humphreys, at Stanford University professor who tracks the opioids problem, said while Mr. Trump signed that bill, it was “the least he could do literally,” while his public emergency on opioids offered little more than “political theater,” so he can’t claim too much credit for any progress.

“It has been congressional leaders in both parties who have led the policy response to the opioid epidemic,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say his use of the bully pulpit was constructive, however, drawing out $6 billion in new funding from Capitol Hill to combat the crisis.

First lady Melania Trump, meanwhile, has emphasized the impacts of opioids use on mothers and their babies as part of her broader “Be Best” initiative for families and children.

“Together, we are making real progress to help people recover, to support families, and to heal our nation,” Mrs. Trump told the crowd in Atlanta.

Looking forward, the White House is encouraging Americans to safely dispose of unused prescription opioids on Saturday at the latest “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway lauded Google on Wednesday for launching tools that help people find one of 5,500 locations where they can turn in prescription drugs.